Bowman’s Baby – Cathedral of Learning

“A building to rise 500 feet or more above the grass…perfect in all details of material and design, would be a symbol of life on the campus. It would tell Pittsburgh every day of these values. It would unify Pittsburgh into a community conscious of its character…and no student could be so dumb but that he would at some time feel the lines and arches cry out to him a powerful note of victory and adventure.” – John G. Bowman

At the center of the University of Pittsburgh campus, this is one 535 foot tall landmark that you simply can not miss.

General Information:

  • Hours: Sundays from 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM; Mondays through Saturdays  9:00 AM – 4:00 PM
    • Hours for Touring:When school is in session the rooms function as university classrooms. During the Fall and Spring semesters audiotape tours are only available on weekends.
      • Fall Term (late August to the December recess)
      • Spring Term (January to the term’s end in April)

      Monday – Friday: 9:00 AM – 2:30 PM (last tour)
      Saturday: 9:00 AM – 2:30 PM (last tour)
      Sunday/ Holidays:
 11:00 AM – 2:30 PM (last tour)

  • Admission: free
    • Guided Tours: Adults $4; Youths (6-18 years) $2
  • Wheel Chair Accessible
  • Parking: There is metered parking available on all four sides of the Cathedral of Learning. The nearest parking garage is the Soldiers and Sailors Garage, located at Fifth Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard. Bike parking on all four sides.
  • Website


University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning is the 4th tallest educational building in the entire world. At 163 meters and 42 floors, the Cathedral can be seen from every corner of the college neighborhood, Oakland, provided you open your eyes and glance in the general direction. Every competing building lies east of Russia, so put simply, this is the tallest educational building that the Western World has to offer. Not only that, but the Cathedral is also rich with history and culture.

Commonly referred to as “Cathy”, the Cathedral of Learning is one of only two educational skyscrapers in the world. Cathy boasts an impressive display of gothic architecture, and is one of the drivers of Pittsburgh pride. The construction of the Cathedral was done under the advisement of Chancellor John G. Bowman and it was completed in October of 1934. The construction was designed as an architectural emulation of Wagner’s symphony The Valkyrie. Much like the symphony, which reaches higher and higher heights, hitting climax after climax, the Cathedral has several different interconnected columns that are each taller than the last. The Cathedral of Learning is also embraced by the Pittsburgh community for its cultural heritage and inclusiveness.

One of the main concepts of the Cathedral was the idea of having so called “Nationality Rooms”. These rooms which are decorated in accordance to traditional classrooms from various ethnic groups. These rooms that symbolize the diversity of the Pittsburgh community are open to the public and there are tours offered that include extensive historical insight. The Nationality Rooms include an African Heritage, German, Turkish, Syrian-Lebanon room and many more totalling to 30 different nationalities being represented. These rooms have seasonally alternating decor and attract visitors from throughout the world. Since the rooms have their own committees run by local Pittsburghers, the Nationality rooms really show how strong the international heritage is in Oakland and greater Pittsburgh area.

Oakland is the one of the college centric neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. Right next to Carnegie Mellon University and housing the world famous University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, there is never a dull moment in the area. Oakland also has no shortage of restaurants, so finding a bite to eat before or after a visit to the Cathedral should pose no problem. Furthermore, if you look out the south-facing windows, you should be able to see Dippy the Dinosaur standing across the street right out front of the Carnegie Library and Natural History Museum. They are easy to spot as they are adjacent to Schenley Plaza an open field frequently covered with tanning college students in sunny weather. Schenley Plaza also features Conflict Kitchen which offers food from countries with which the United States currently has conflict. These sites are a great combination visit and are appropriate for people of all ages and family friendly. There is no need to book tickets in advance and the Cathedral and its neighboring sites are sure to provide a fascinating day of cultural and historical insight into Secret Pittsburgh.


School Building and Community Symbol

The Cathedral of Learning was once the highest higher education building in the world. Chancellor Bowman’s vision in building it was one of great height that would represent the quality of education that the University of Pittsburgh offered. While this is true, Bowman’s vision was much more far-reaching than that. The Cathedral of Learning not only plays an important role in the University of Pittsburgh student and faculty body, but is also an inclusive space that welcomes and represents the Pittsburgh community. This massive construction project became a unifying goal that the people of Pittsburgh and the university sought to accomplish together. The Cathedral would become a point of architectural pride and glory for every citizen of the city whose presence would later become internationally renowned.

Completed Cathedral of Learning, ca 1937, University of Pittsburgh Historic Photographs, 1884-present, Pittsburgh.

From the very beginning the cooperation between the university and the cities community was extensive. Early letters from the Faculty of the School of Business Administration document their desire that “every effort be made to win the cooperation of the public and of the press” (A Letter to Dr. Bowman). Since the beginning, faculty remained interested in steering the building’s purpose in a communal direction, and this was well recognized. The faculty also mentioned their desire to “attract visitors and conventions to this city”. This influx of visitors would prove to help the local economy as well as consistently attract the brightest minds to the university. With overcrowding and $1.24 million in debt (Brown, p. 1), Bowman needed to turn the university around and this was something he strove to do alongside the Oakland community from day one.


The public’s involvement with the Cathedral began with correspondences like the ones documented by Chancellor Bowman’s Memorial Office with a woman named Mrs. Stegeman. As a retired public school teacher who made 12 contributions fueled by her “devotion to the ideal of education the tall building stands for” she was one of many small Pittsburgh contributors. In fact, by 1934 the Sun Telegraph reported a whopping $2,600,000 in expenditures by the Pittsburgh community alone. This figure, however, does not even include all of the yearly funds that came from all of the nationality room committees.

The Nationality Room committees are run in order to maintain a cultural community much like the Czechoslovak Nationality Room Committee whose annual Slovak Festival has been run on a volunteer base for over a quarter century. These types of events are open to the public and promote pride for many various cultural heritages. Often times these events are run by volunteers who are members of the corresponding communities. Christine Metil, for example has been the organizer for the Slovak Festival for more than a decade and a half. The concept of the Cathedral of Learning was that the committees will get a room which the committee may decorate in a cultural representation of their country. The committees pay for the decoration, design, and upkeep but having their own platform in the magnificent cathedral is an excellent way for them to integrate that community into Pittsburgh. It gives them a space to be represented in the pride of the city as a whole that breeds inclusiveness. The fact that they hold a room in the cathedral also has a standard raising effect. The committees and people of the community understand that it is an honor to have that position and this mirrors the prestige and investment from the university that they maintain. The Czechoslovak Nationality Rooms Committee was able to have influential Slovak community members like Mr. Andrew Valuzek, the former national president of Sokol U.S.A., a very well renowned youth sports movement founded in Prague. This type of speaking engagement would have arguably not been possible without the explicit community inclusion catalyzed by their platform inside one of Pittsburgh’s most prominent structures. The symbiotic relationship of having communally used space inside the Cathedral serves to make people of all walks of life feel welcomed, but also stimulates planning of diverse events and activities. In many universities, the community is excluded from the campus. This alienates the community and fosters an “us vs. them” mentality. It is easy to see the effects of an integrated community on a university campus when you compare Pitt to Temple University. Compared to other universities like Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh offers a much more community inclusive atmosphere and while Pittsburgh is still a gruff city, the two intertwine much more fluidly. The University of Pittsburgh is mostly publicly accessible unlike Temple and while it is still a university catering to its students, it does not explicitly exclude anyone. At Temple, many buildings are only accessible with a university ID and are staffed with security guards much like a government building. The segregated layout affects both the student and community body negatively. This type of mentality is not conducive to the ideology of the Cathedral. In 1970, black Oakland citizens were up 4% from the national average already (University of Pittsburgh Neighborhood Alliance) and the Asian population today is also above average proving the communities dedication to promoting diversity. Not only are the communities racially diverse, but importantly the interaction crossing these racial lines is welcomed as opposed to being divided by a key card barrier. Where inclusiveness is promoted, people of all walks in the city feel welcomed and not alienated. This mentality is partly thanks to the vision of Chancellor Bowman and his coordination with the community which includes the local businesses as well.

13064016_10209547516150418_1853653321_oLarge construction projects like this are bound to get financial assistance from local businesses that are also looking to promote the community of their workforce. The Cathedral is no exception to this. In 1933 during a standstill in construction due to lack of funds, the Civil Works Administration made a $300,000 contribution. This contribution put 1000 unemployed people in the community back to work (News article from Memorials Office of the Chancellor (John G. Bowman) Office box 16 Folder 128). Over the years the construction of the Cathedral employed several thousand Pittsburghers. The lasting tourism increase due to the Cathedral is also welcomed by the community as all local businesses profit from this. Some of these businesses were the same businesses that an open letter from Bowman to the community mention by name: Kaufmann’s Department Stores Inc., Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing, United States Steel Corporation, Aluminum Company of America and many more (Memorials Office of the Chancellor (John G. Bowman) Office box 20 Folder 155). These fiscal contributions were also accompanied by local businesses who “gave large gifts of steel, cement, elevators, glass, plumbing and heating elements” ( These are obviously donations that are associated with much more Pittsburgh personality. The difference is almost comparable to buying someone a gift card and making them something as a gift. The former requires little effort and care whereas the latter requires thought of what the person might like and requires a substantial amount of time and effort. The donated resources had to be coordinated with the management of the construction. Working together on this also literally led to a space built on a tightly knit community. This made13054728_10209536911805316_874757948_othese community businesses much more connected to the formation of the space that would become the completed Cathedral of Learning.

Even after the community lead construction of the Cathedral, with deliberate purpose, the community continually revises the common uses of this very much shared space. Some community members are able to take advantage of the Cathedral of Learning for completely unexpected reasons like athletics. A majority of the students only use the stairs in order to make it to their next class. During off hours, however, people like Daniel Chew scale the stairs in order to prepare themselves for sporting events (PPG). Hikers, bikers, runners and other athletes that do not need to be affiliated with the university take advantage of the public welcoming skyscraper. Local groups like Meetup group “The Pittsburgh Social Club!” for example do stair climbing days in the Cathedral stairwell and follow it up with dinner in local Oakland restaurants. While still part of the university, everything about the Cathedral is more welcoming than a corporate or lawyer building like many downtown where such activities are not welcomed like they are in the Cathedral. In fact in 1974 it was even named an official city landmark for the historical and cultural value that it adds to the city of Pittsburgh (Memorials Office of the Chancellor (John G. Bowman) Office box 16 Folder 128). As Mrs. Stegeman once wrote to the memorial office, “Pittsburgh’s leading citizens will have had their lives tempered, qualified, heightened, by the influence of that building – its mood, its memorials, and teaching in it” (Letter from Mrs. Stegeman – Memorials Office of the Chancellor (John G. Bowman) Office files, Box 14, Folder 114). This couldn’t be a more accurate description of the impact that this building had, currently has and will have on the Pittsburgh community.


The more people that you meet from Pittsburgh, the increasingly clear it becomes that the Cathedral offers immeasurable benefits for the university community and the city as a whole. The effects of this building are internationally reaching and serve as a representation of the diverse Pittsburgh community. Pittsburgh has wisely used this massive construction project to display to the world  the open minded and inclusivity of this community.



A Building from the Quiver of a Bowman

The archer did not see the giant game until he was right on top of it. Still, in this moment of high tension, he is poised while drawing his bow. His arrow, determined, fighting through dense brush until it finds its mark. The Bowman’s name was John and his arrow, the drive necessary to envision and construct a structure unlike any other university building in the world. Not only was this new building the tallest in the city, but more amazingly it was not built for commerce, but rather for the sole purpose of education. He fought through economic impossibilities to create a novel fundraising campaign that would collect more money than any other American community had ever voluntarily contributed to a civic project at one time (Alberts, 95). Skeptics from his board of trustees and others would also stand in the way of accomplishing his massive goal. Through the construction of the Cathedral of Learning, Dr. John G. Bowman would change the thought of what was economically possible and completely overhaul the social view of the University of Pittsburgh.

John G. Bowman

Few chancellors can claim they have had such a lasting impact on a university as Dr. John G. Bowman had on the University of Pittsburgh. A 535 feet, 42 story, “tower” now stands as a monument to his outstanding achievements. When Bowman took over as chancellor in 1921, the University was not in great shape. The college was $1.024 million in debt and the influx of students far surpassed the amount of space the University had for classrooms and offices. Bowman quickly got to work with a plan to change the image of the University. He knew he needed an additional 14 million cubic feet of space to provide adequate facilities for the students and educators. After pondering the designs of many of the country’s elite universities, such as Harvard, Columbia, and Yale, he decided that these examples did not adequately tell the epic story of Pittsburgh. It was through the Gothic architecture of Ruskin that he came upon the idea of a tower that “would tell of the courage and spirit of Pittsburgh” (Alberts, 85). He wanted a building that was not only an inspiration to the city of Pittsburgh, but also a place that would inspire students as he believed that “college years mark off a period of awakening; that during these years purposes grow clear, that ideals become as real to the imagination as grass and soap are to the physical experience” (Chancellor’s Report, 24).

The years of 1922-1928 would contain his hardest challenge, the financing of the construction of the Cathedral of Learning. This undertaking would involve a massive $10 million fund-raising campaign, a phrase that was nonexistent at this time (Alberts, 95). His plan would be to involve the whole region, saying that “the tall building would be an inspiration, a witness to the spirit of hope and achievement of Pittsburgh, both to itself and to the world” (Alberts. 95). The phrase “to the spirit of achievement of Pittsburgh” would become an unofficial slogan for the campaign and be used extensively in various forms of fundraising. This campaign united a city towards what some might think is just an interesting building today, but to the world of the early 20th century, this monument of education seemed more like the eighth wonder of the world.

Bowman would call the months that followed the campaign “the summer of confusion” (Alberts, 109). Even though his team had raised more money for the University in five months than all of the money given to the University by private donors in the past 138 years, protest still existed around the “skyscraper project” and “only $5.6 million had been raised that could be solely used for the building. As the 1920’s came to a close, further turmoil would hit the building project as the nation would enter into the longest and deepest economic depression in history.

Russian Nationality Room Committee

The concept of the Nationality Rooms evolved as Bowman was faced with several problems in designing the interior space of the tall building. The first problem was making the interior of the Cathedral of Learning worthy of its dramatic exterior. The Chancellor’s second problem was persuading the Allegheny community to further help his cause and support the great undertaking of the building’s interior (Alberts, 134). The basic concept arose of addressing individual nationalities separately for support. After all, in the Pittsburgh district, forty-three foreign countries were represented and at the University itself, one of every three students was foreign-born or the child of an immigrant (Alberts, 134-136). Upon hearing of the distress in national communities about the loss of culture among the American-born generation, Bowman conceived the extraordinary idea of having each nationality finance the building of a special room inside the Cathedral that would be exclusively dedicated to the culture of that community. The project was well received by the communities and care taken to ensure the authenticity of the artists, designers, and materials used to create the rooms. It turns out that the Great Depression helped in the long run in that it gave Bowman and the Nationality Room designers the proper time to “plan and think” through the completion of the building (Alberts, 139). Ruth Crawford Mitchell, Bowman’s partner in the creation of the Nationality Rooms, described their creation as “the first time that any university in the United States recognized the immigrant groups as brining something other than industrial brawn – that they too, had a cultural heritage which they would like to share” (Alberts, 140).

For more information: The Nationality Rooms

The Cathedral of Learning

Overall, Chancellor John G. Bowman should be considered one of the University of Pittsburgh’s greatest chancellors. His legacy stands at 535 ft. tall and has led to some of the most profound innovations in university policy in terms of fundraising campaigns and corporate philanthropy that this country has ever seen. He managed to sway the respect of the region’s elite and solidified the world’s view of the University of Pittsburgh. The Cathedral of Learning would go on to inspire a city toward the spirit of achievement in Pittsburgh, just as Chancellor Bowman intended. In Bowman’s original petition to the University’s Board of Trustees for the construction of the Cathedral of Learning, he includes a quote from the Honorary Elbert H. Gary, a key founder of U. S. Steel, to help convince the also industry minded Board. The quote would serve to perfectly sum up the legacy Bowman was trying to achieve in that, “The Cathedral of Learning will receive the admiration and the wonder of the world. Its physical height is limited to [535] feet, but the height and breadth of its influence can never be measured in figures or words. In many ways, it will not be surpassed” (The Cathedral of Learning, 14).



Works Cited:

Alberts, Robert C. Pitt: The Story of the University of Pittsburgh, 1787-1987. Pittsburgh, PA:   University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986.

Bowman, John Gabbert, 1877. The Cathedral of Learning of the University of Pittsburgh. United States:, 1925.

Bowman. Open Letter from Chancellor Bowman. UA.2.10.1921-1945. Box 20, Folder 155. MS. Memorials Office of the Chancellor (John G. Bowman) Office Files. University of Pittsburgh Archive Service Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Campbell, V.W.H., Jr. “Climbing to Fitness.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 14 Feb. 2007. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.

“Cathedral of Learning.” Nationality Rooms. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.

“Cathedral and Smithfield Street Named Official City Landmarks 10 Years Ago.” UA.2.10.1921-1945. Box 16, Folder 128. Unidentified Newspaper [Pittsburgh] 29 May. 1984. Memorials Office of the Chancellor (John G. Bowman) Office Files. 15 Apr. 2016.

Chancellor John G. Bowman.1928. Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh – Historic Pittsburgh Image Collection.

“Civil Works Administration Puts 1000 Unemployed Back to Work.” Unidentified Newspaper. UA.2.10.1921-1945. Box 16, Folder 128. MS. Memorials Office of the Chancellor (John G. Bowman) Office Files. University of Pittsburgh Archive Service Center, Pittsburgh,Pennsylvania.

Czechoslovak Nationality Room Committee. May Newsletter 1997. UA.40.05. Box 7, Folder 1-2. MS. Czechoslovak Nationality Room Committee Collection. University of Pittsburgh Archive Service Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“Expresses City’s Pride.” UA.2.10.1921-1945. Box 14, Folder 115. Sun Telegraph [Pittsburgh] 3 Jan. 1934. Sun Telegraph. Memorials Office of the Chancellor (John G. Bowman) Office Files. 15 Apr. 2016.

Faculty of the School of Business Administration. Letter to Dr. Bowman. UA.2.10.1921-1945. Box 14, Folder 114. MS. Memorials Office of the Chancellor (John G. Bowman) Office Files. University of Pittsburgh Archive Service Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Russian Nationality Room Committee. 1938. Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh – Historic Pittsburgh Image Collection.

Stegeman. Letter to Memorials Office of Chancellor Bowman. UA.2.10.1921-1945. Box 14, Folder 114. MS. Memorials Office of the Chancellor (John G. Bowman) Office Files. University of Pittsburgh Archive Service Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

 University of Pittsburgh. Chancellor. Report of the Chancellor to the Trustees. University of Pittsburgh, Digital Research Library, 1924-1926.

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